The most glamourous actress in the early days of Hollywood was also one of the most significant technological minds of the 20th century.
LatinAmerican Post | Carolina Rodríguez Monclou
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Hedy Lamarr was one of the most iconic actresses of her day, known for her great beauty, and she was the inspiration for Catwoman, a fictional character associated with DC Comics' Batman franchise, and Snow White, the main character of the first animated film from Walt Disney Productions.
However, there is an unknown part of her life, she was also a brilliant inventor.
History shows that Hedy was a Jewish child who was born in Austria in the shadow of the first world war, and then she became extraordinarily beautiful when she was about 11 years old.
She became an actress and fled to the United States at the request of Louis B. Mayer, an entrepreneur who was the most potent Hollywood movie executive that wanted to make her his next big star on the big screen.
Hedy became huge: she was like the Angelina Jolie of her days, making a lot of films with Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, and Jimmy Stewart.
Inventing was her hobby, Lamarr not only had a complete inventing table set up in her house but Howard Hughes, a magnate that produced several inventions in aerospace technology, gave her a small version of the set of equipment which she had in the trailer where she stayed in between takes and her motion pictures.
Lamarr had no formal training in engineering or chemistry; she was just naturally gifted. She left school when she was 15 years old to become an actress.
The prodigy invented during that period a tablet that would fizz up and make a cola. Hedy had two chemists that Howard assigned to help her to do that. During the war, nobody had coca-cola, and she wanted to compress it into a cube for soldiers and factory workers, all they had to do was put the cube in water.
However, her most famous invention came up at the time where Nazi submarines kept eluding the allies' attacks because the Germans were very good at hacking (or jamming) the radio signals that guided the allies' torpedoes. What Hedy Lamarr came up with was a radio signal between a ship and a projectile that couldn't be hacked.
Rather than sending radio communications on just one frequency as was usually done, Lamarr had the idea of making the signal leap from rate to rate. This concept secured radio communication and is defined by experts as brilliant.
That basic idea of frequency-hopping that Lamarr came up with became part of what's known as spread spectrum, and this is what's in all of our technology today. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are probably the most similar examples to what Hedy Lamarr invented. The spread spectrum is in a massive amount of inventions that we use daily.
Hedy had a patent on the technology, but it was confiscated because she was an Austrian immigrant and considered an "enemy alien".
Alexandra Dean, director of the film, claims that some scientists said to her during her research of Hedy Lamarr's life that "she was probably a spy. She probably stole this invention from the Nazis and brought it to the allies as a spy". Dean says during an interview with PBS News Hour, "I had to confront that assumption in the film."
Part of what fueled those assumptions was that Lamarr had rarely spoken publicly about her invention. She'd never really taken credit for her work.
Regarding how Hedy Lamarr's life ended, she withdrew from the world at the end of her life because she felt misunderstood. Part of it was a shoplifting arrest, which she may or may not have been guilty of, and part of it, according to Dean, was that she had this unfortunate plastic surgery at the end of her life to try and regain that beauty. She was so withdrawn by the time she started to get recognized for her inventions that she never came out publicly and accepted any claim for it.
Alexandra Dean, director of "Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story," concludes that "people ask me all the time if Hedy Lamarr's life was a tragic life to me and I don't think it was, even though she did have this dark period at the end of her life, she examined what she'd been through, and she came out with some wisdom."
The reason why Alexandra says this is because during her investigation she found that Lamarr would call her children and leave them long messages which they would record and one of her letters that the production of this documentary found, was her trying to tell her son the news of her life through this poem:
"Give the world the best you have, and you’ll be kicked into the teeth. Give the world the best you’ve got, anyway”